Whale Huys holiday rental is located in a quiet seaside resort town called De Kelders.
Nature’s Price Tag for Gansbaai
Ecosystem Services is a fancy term in sustainability jargon for all the things that nature provides us with for free. Besides the obvious ones like the oxygen we get from plants, think of fruit farmers who rely on the bees to pollinate their trees or the local fishermen in Gansbaai who rely on the natural fish stocks for their livelihood. “For free?” I hear people asking - we pay the government for fishing rights, we pay Overstrand for water, and fruit farmers often pay for beehives to be placed near their orchards. It’s important that we understand that what we are actually paying for is the delivery of these services or allocation of “rights” for these services, and not the actual services themselves. This became very clear during last year’s water crisis in Cape Town where supply was critically low, and even the most generous of water rates payers would have struggled to get water if day zero had actually become a reality.
And here lies the challenge. While these services are technically free, when we exploit the ecosystem beyond the point that nature is able to regenerate, this leads to system collapse whereby nature no longer is able to provide the services. For the examples above, this includes things like the collapse of fish stocks due to overexploitation (consider the abalone populations in Gansbaai), destruction of bee colonies due to pesticide use and water shortages due to over-extraction of water.
All this led me to reflect on our dependence on ecosystem services at our self-catering property, Whale Huys, and tourism in general in Gansbaai. The most obvious “service” we benefit from is the presence of the sharks and whales that are one of the most important attractions for the town. The fynbos, birds and other marine and land-based animals are also part of what people love about the town. The beautiful nature trails along the coast and in the hills that people love to hike and the clean beaches and ocean water are other examples. The dependence of tourism in Gansbaai on ecosystem services is enormous even if the connections are perhaps less direct than the fishing example. I, for one, know that I often take these “gifts from nature” for granted when thinking about our business plan. The fact that we don’t get a bill for these services every month makes it easy to forget how essential they are to the flourishing of our local economy and society.
Gansbaai’s designation as one of the world’s most sustainable tourism destination is something we can be proud of. But this honour also comes with responsibility. With this in mind, we all need to do what we can to reduce our impact and support nature. At Whale Huys we still have a very long way to go, but we have done a few things we are proud of in terms of steps to reduce our environmental impact. We installed solar water heaters and low energy lighting and appliances throughout the villa. To save water we have systems to reduce water waste and reduce chemical use in the pool, and some systems for using grey water for irrigation. For the landscaping, we use indigenous plants local to the area and try to minimize the use of harsh chemicals or pesticides. While these are just very small baby-steps, for me it’s important that we keep nature, our silent benefactor, in mind with all the decisions we make. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Gansbaai’s designation as a sustainable tourism destination became a key differentiator for people looking for more sustainable holidays? And wouldn’t it be great if Gansbaai served as a model for other towns in South Africa, making sustainability a key part of South Africa’s success as a tourism destination. Who’s in?